Welfare breakthrough

The L.A. Times tells of a revolutionary idea that will save millions in welfare costs: Pay unemployed parents to take care of their own kids:

Supervisors suggest putting unemployed parents to work caring for their own children as part of proposed changes to CalWorks and other state government aid programs.

With steep state budget cuts under debate in Sacramento, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to push for changes to CalWorks and other government aid programs they said would save nearly $270 million.

Included in their suggestions is a novel proposal: Put unemployed parents to work caring for their own children.

“What we’re saying is do not cut Welfare to Work outright: Target the cuts to the people who are the most expensive,” said Miguel Santana, a deputy to the county’s chief executive.

Parents now receiving assistance must attend job training and search for work. While they fulfill those requirements, they are eligible for subsidized child care, which typically costs the state about $500 a month per child in L.A. County.

The parents of children under age 1 may stay home and still receive benefits. Now, county officials propose expanding that to parents who have one child under age 2 or two children under age 6. Monthly job training and child-care costs for such parents often exceed their welfare check, Santana said.

In Los Angeles County, 8,000 households with more than one child under age 6 receive CalWorks-subsidized child care, according to the county’s department of social services. If adopted, county officials estimate the proposal — intended to counter Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s threat to eliminate CalWorks — could save the state $140 million this fiscal year.

Some parents who would be affected by the change had mixed feelings.

This might at least keep a parent or two at home, rather than forcing them off to work, leaving their children unraised.

Reverse Okies

A lot of us Oklahomans have tied the mattresses to the top of our cars and headed out of state looking for work. No matter where we live, we’ll still be Okies to our dying day, but we end up spread out all over the place. California has always had some strange attraction for folks like us ever since the Dust Bowl days. But now, Californians are tying their designer portmanteaus to the top of their SUVs, leaving their economic basket-case of a state, and heading east on the path of the old route 66 to seek their fortune in Oklahoma:

From 2004 through 2007, about 275,000 Californians left the Golden State for the old Dust Bowl states of Oklahoma and Texas, twice the number that left those two states for California, recent Internal Revenue Service figures show. In fact, the mid-South gained more residents from California during those four years than either Oregon, Nevada or Arizona. The trend continued into 2008.

As a result, it’s easy to find Californians – even former Sacramentans – living and working in Oklahoma City, a capital of the American heartland.

Ask these Okies-in-reverse why they traded the Golden State for the Sooner State – named for settlers who came there sooner than the Homestead Act allowed – and you’ll hear a lot of similar themes: easier to find a job; cheaper to buy or rent a home; better place to make a fresh start. Ask them why they stay in Oklahoma and they’ll add to that list a deep optimism that it’s a place where things are about to take off.

HT: Michelle Malkin

Wittenberg project in the news

I’m on the board of Concordia Publishing House, and we have invested some money in rehabilitating the Reformation-era school building in Wittenberg right next to Luther’s church, housing a bookstore, a visitors’ center, and a new confessional congregation in that city. I was surprised to see this written about in the Washington Post, of all places. We had some controversy with the state church, but it seems that the project has become a catalyst for a revival of interest in Luther and his faith. From the article entitled In German Birthplace of Reformation, a Revival of Interest:

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the second-largest Lutheran body in the United States, has bought a building next to the old Town Church, where Luther used to preach, and plans to turn it into a welcome center for U.S. visitors. The Missouri Synod also plans to start a congregation by reaching out to German atheists, although organizers acknowledge that won’t be easy in a city still recovering from 40 years of communist rule.

“In east Germany, you actually have to go up to people and tell them who Jesus was,” said Wilhelm Torgerson, a German Lutheran pastor who serves as the Missouri Synod’s representative in Wittenberg. “They say, ‘Oh yes, Christ. Didn’t he have something to do with Luther?’ ”

“We would like to proclaim the Gospel to unbelievers, and there are certainly a lot of them here,” Torgerson added. “Obviously, there is enough work for all of us without stepping on anyone’s toes.”

Wittenbergers have welcomed the growing American presence for the most part, but there have been some bruised feelings.

Some Missouri Synod leaders have declared that their congregation would be the only true Lutheran church in Wittenberg — an assertion that irritated members of the Evangelical Church in Germany, the largest Protestant body in the country. The Evangelical Church comprises Lutherans, Calvinists and other denominations.

“It was strange for them to come here and say, ‘We are the first real Lutherans,’ ” said Siegfried T. Kasparick, the Evangelical Church’s bishop for Wittenberg. “We’ve had a Lutheran congregation here since Luther.”

In Germany, about 30 percent of the population belongs to the Evangelical Church. An additional 31 percent count themselves as Roman Catholic.

In Wittenberg, however, the number of churchgoers is among the lowest in the country. About 15 percent are members of the Evangelical Church, and 3 percent are Catholic. The city also has a small number of Baptists.

National leaders of the Evangelical Church acknowledged that they have taken Wittenberg’s theological and historical significance for granted in the past. Many west Germans still regard the city, about 60 miles southwest of Berlin, as an east German backwater.

But such attitudes have gradually changed, in large part because of the influx of foreign pilgrims in Wittenberg since the fall of communism two decades ago.

Kasparick, the Wittenberg bishop, said the strong interest from international Lutheran groups has prompted German Protestants to take more pride in their heritage. “They make us stronger,” he said. . . .

German church leaders, however, also see the Luther renaissance as an opportunity to bolster dwindling membership across the country. In October, the Evangelical Church in Germany dispatched a senior pastor, Stephan Dorgerloh, to work in Wittenberg full time to help coordinate and promote the religious aspects of the 500th anniversary commemorations.

In the past, Dorgerloh said, international Protestant leaders would visit Evangelical Church officials in Berlin and ask to visit Wittenberg. “The German church would say, ‘Why do you want to go there?’ ” he recalled.

Since then, he said, “there’s been a rediscovery of Wittenberg by the German national church. Church leaders have rediscovered that this is the heart of the Reformation.”

Which is better, secularism or false religion?

In the recent post about the elections in Iran, tODD commented that he was surprised to see us conservative Christians pulling for the liberal secularists over our fellow conservative religious types. (tODD was thus doing what he had earlier argued the press was not doing, seeing conservative Christians as being equivalent to conservative Muslims–but set that aside.) I responded, “Isn’t liberal secularism to be preferred to false religion?” That provoked some interesting reflection and the sense that we should discuss this issue in our larger forum. Here is tODD’s response to what I asked:

Certainly when liberal secularism in the West is discussed here on this blog, it is always demonized, as if whatever its alternative happens to be could not possibly be “false religion”. But is that so? The assumption seems to be that the entity opposing liberal secularism in the West is Christianity — but is it true Christianity? Or works-righteousness Christianity or some other gospel-less abomination, which is every bit as false as Islam? I don’t think that gets talked about very much. So would we apply the same metric to our own situation, that liberal secularism is to be preferred to anything other than Biblical Christianity, even if there are lots of (ultimately falsehood-embracing) people who use Jesus’ name and make good speeches against liberal secularism?

Also, there is the inevitable charge of hypocrisy. Just as America has too often been fine with “Democracy for me, not for thee”, favoring dictatorial leaders in our pocket over democratically-chosen leftists (or whatever), so Christians could be accused of “Liberal secularism for thee, but not for me.”

And where does this apparent ranking come from, that we prefer, in order, (1) religious right-wingers here, (2) liberal secularists there, (3) religious right-wingers there? Is it out of concern for the Gospel? Or fear of men? Do we, as Christians, prefer liberal secularism over false religion because it makes people more receptive to the Gospel? What about in Europe, where false religion no doubt abounds? I feel like the prevailing sentiment here is still one opposed to liberal secularism, in that region. Why?

It seems to me that pure, undefiled secularism is always to be preferred to false religion. For one thing, I see the secular realm as already comprehended in God’s creation and as part of His reign in the Kingdom of His Lefthand, in which He providentially and through vocation governs the universe. Secular facts–that a water molecule is composed of two hydrogen atoms plus one oxygen atom; 2+2=4–and secular operations (using a computer, making a living, a policeman writing me a speeding ticket) I have no problem with. Indeed, I embrace them. Things don’t have to be explicitly religious to have value, meaning, and, perhaps ironically, religious significance. I can share this realm with people of any religion and no religion.

Here is the problem, though, with today’s secularism (that is, “liberal secularism”): It turns itself into a false religion! It insists on telling me and my children that morality is not valid. (Morality is largely FOR the secular realm!) It insists on teaching me and my children that God did not create the universe, which is empty and undirected, and acts on this premise, most horribly in the child sacrifice of abortion. This kind of secularism insists on attacking or undermining my religion every chance it gets. A true secular realm stays out of such matters. Secularism as a total world-and-life-view, however, is just as much a false religion as Islam.

I do oppose efforts by religious people to impose their faith on others, which cannot be done, and to confuse faith active in love with the exercise of power. I do think Christians as individuals and in their vocations should influence their culture and their government, but this will take a secular form. Again, I think morality has a secular focus, which many disagree with, but confusing morality with religion is something even many religious people do, confusing law and gospel.

In ancient Rome, Christians were put to death on the charge of atheism. They did not believe in the gods of the dominant culture. I believe that our “secular” establishment is getting even more religious, with its own pantheon of accepted deities, its own promises of establishing the utopian kingdom of heaven on earth, and, yes, its own messiahs. Christians will once again have to play the role of skeptics, doubters, and, yes, atheists. We may even find ourselves allying with other kinds of atheists who reject the one true God also, though I rather doubt it: those “atheists” will tend to support what is coming and will run after “the gods of this world.” The mantra of the new religion will be that all religions are the same and that we must embrace them all equally, lest we commit the sin of intolerance and hate. This is what Christians will be accused of and possibly arrested for. It was Christians who “secularized” the pagan view of nature and society (no, the sun is not a god; no, the earth is not a god; no, the emperor is not a god; no, you do not create your own reality; no, you do not create your own morality), and we will probably have to do this all over again.

Conservatism is back

“Conservatives” Are Single-Largest Ideological Group:

Thus far in 2009, 40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004. The 21% calling themselves liberal is in line with findings throughout this decade, but is up from the 1990s.

But what kind of conservative? Social, libertarian, neo, paleo, Burkean, Berryan, crunchy? That’s what I’d like to know.

Shakespeare on postmodernism

Four hundred years ago, the bard saw it coming and saw where it would lead. This is Ulysses’ speech from “Troilus and Cressida” on the order in the universe and what will happen if we embrace disorder instead :

The heavens themselves, the planets, and this centre 88
Observe degree, priority, and place,
Insisture, course, proportion, season, form,
Office, and custom, in all line of order:
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . How could communities,
Degrees in schools, and brotherhoods in cities,
Peaceful commerce from dividable shores, 108
The primogenitive and due of birth,
Prerogative of age, crowns, sceptres, laurels,
But by degree, stand in authentic place?
Take but degree away, untune that string, 112
And, hark! what discord follows. . .
. . . . . . . . .
Force should be right; or rather, right and wrong—
Between whose endless jar justice resides— 120
Should lose their names, and so should justice too.
Then every thing includes itself in power,
Power into will, will into appetite;
And appetite, a universal wolf, 124
So doubly seconded with will and power,
Must make perforce a universal prey,
And last eat up himself. Troilus and Cressida, Act I. Scene III